The Almost Injury
Injuries are the quickest way to make a runner stop our seemingly constant and affectionate complaints about running. Those complaints fly out the window when there is even potential that running will have to be reduced or we will need to stop altogether and (insert scary music) rest. What a lot of (non-running) people do not understand is that there are different levels of injury. For one person a lost toenail could interrupt their foot strike enough to have to reduce mileage, while others run through shin splits or hobble around until there is a physician diagnosis as drastic as a stress fracture. There are the types of injuries that can put you out for a long duration or short jaunt, types that flare for a few days or weeks and ones that can be in remission but always on the verge of coming back.
Personally, I have experienced a very serious injury or at least one to the point where I have had to completely stop running, but I have also had the type of injuries that require a serious commitment on my end: reduction in miles, focused stretching, icing, physical therapy, taping, medication, dry needling, shots, massage and holding my breath while crossing my fingers. All injuries, at all levels, affect us mentally. When I am training for something I still get anxious that any number of my historical ailments are going to rear their ugly head especially when I have a goal in mind. The fear and anxiety of an old injury returning can be almost as crippling mentally. What happens and how do you cope when you aren’t injured but almost?
The Phantom Injury
Three weeks or less out from a race? Welcome to being acutely aware of your body and having every awkward movement, catch, pop, grind, noise or discomfort send you into panic. Does one ankle look larger than the other? What was that random pain that just shot through your hip walking up the stairs? Who cares that it is now completely gone and you may never feel it again, you will spend most of your free time for the next 48 hours researching “shooting hip pain” ad nauseam on every reputable website to make sure you don’t need hip replacement surgery.
I joke, yet, phantom pain prior to a race is real. Blame it on the taper tantrums, which is the perfect excuse for everything, but your body is coming down off of weeks or months of increasing demand. You may recall that the same thing happened as you were increasing but you chalked it up to the added stress you were expecting of your body. Aches, pains and adjustments occur as you go up in training and, equally, as you go down. There might also be some mental projection, but that is another topic.
Trepidation looms large after recovery from any injury. All is well, you feel good, your runs are good and there’s no pain. Or is there? Nothing is more toxic to recovery and the road to getting “back” than the anxiety trailing in its wake. Gone are the days of bouncing around like a carefree gazelle and enter the days marked with steps of apprehension that history will repeat itself.
I’m what I like to call a “Permanent PTer” meaning if a Physical Therapist gives me a preventative or strengthening exercise, I am adding that to the regimen for life or for at least a decade more than need. While a decade might seem a wee bit excessive, enforcing physical and mental strength by continuing the crucial steps that resolved the initial injury is important.
Looming in the Distance
A million and one things can affect our running and because of that we are always one misstep away from an injury. It’s happened to me a million times, I go on vacation to somewhere amazingly walk-able like Charleston or walk demanding like New York City and I am on my feet walking for hours upon end. No big deal for someone who runs all the time except anyone who is prone to Plantar Fasciitis knows it actually is a really big deal. I got smart and preventative. Gone were the cute shoes for anything over half a mile, except often, I would get what I call “early on-set” shin splits from the sensible shoes. There was no winning. I have never actually had shin splits but going on vacation will guarantee that they become a threat. We need to be aware what our triggers are and actively avert those causes. For some, the same scenario could wreak havoc on their back. In either situation, the next 5-10 days are spent coddling, preventing and praying mild irritation doesn’t turn into a full blown injury. An accurate look at your body’s capabilities and what not only your running, but your non-running, activates entail are important. Even with the best intentions and prevention we can wind up in a preliminary injury at any time.
When I started running again, after taking time off, my mom was really concerned about knees. We’ve all heard it: “running’s bad for your knees”, and it might be, for some of us. Yet, on an occasional run it still crosses my mind. My knees. They haven’t bothered me a day in my life but they are a mental injury. Either way, I do preventative exercises just to make sure. For over a decade I have spent time on paranoia. The silver lining is that with concerted prevention and awareness of triggers the “Almost Injury” can be warded off. The daunting thing is sometimes the prevention and strengthening is a constant. Maybe it comes with the territory but I’ll take a constant maintenance as my task to be able to run pain free any day.